Monday, July 06, 2009

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

A classic Vonnegut work that wonderfully delivers in the usual ways.
Although this is my second reading, I hadn’t remembered much so it was still a novel novel. Chief among the themes Vonnegut was pushing was the idea of materialism and how we often do what we do because we are built that way. Alternatively, he contrasts this oft repeated idea by suggesting that at another (essential) level we are all unique beings of light and that perspective allows for wonder and compassion.
As he makes many dry, satirical comments and descriptions of events, it is both humourous to those affected by such wit but the book could also serve as a guide to aliens trying to understand human behaviour.
The plot was decent but I usually read Vonnegut for the ideologies or quirky presentation of interesting ideas to which I can relate.
The primary example was:
“This much I knew and know: I was making myself hideously uncomfortable by
not narrowing my attention to details of life which were immediately important,
and by refusing to believe what my neighbors believed.”

Another gem was a dialogue between two artists, Beatrice and Rabo, at a piano bar about Rabo’s painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony:
Beatrice: “This is a dreadful confession, but I don’t even know who Saint Anthony was. Who was he, and why should anybody have wanted to tempt him?”
Rabo: “I don’t know, and I would hate to find out.”
Beatrice: “You have
no use for truth?”
Rabo: “You know what truth is? It’s some crazy thing my neighbour believes. If I want to make friends with him, I ask him what he believes. He tells me, and I say, “Yeah, yeah – ain’t it the truth?”

Vonnegut’s frequent depiction of people as various types of machines existing in various states of working order was very useful for me. I am already sympathetic to (some form of) the view and it provides me with greater compassion and understanding. I quite appreciated his detailed description of how his adrenal system kicked into gear after his visual system registered a potentially threatening stimulus.

I highly recommend Breakfast of Champions (but if you have never read a Vonnegut I would start with Slaughterhouse Five and then perhaps God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and then Breakfast)


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